Hi! Remember me? Two years ago, I declared my 1970-ish CB350 Cafe Racer project quasi-finished. The result looked nice—nice enough to be featured in a national custom-bike magazine as well as the Aerostich catalog—but one of our most regular (and most grouchy) commenters made a grimly foreshadowing pronouncement: “At least with a chopper you can ride comfortably from coffee shop to coffee shop. With this sucker you’d be redlining the whole way just to get the painful journey over quickly.”
“What a (insert slang term for male or female genitalia here)!” I swore to myself, loudly enough to disturb the cats. “I’ll prove him wrong!”
Two years later, and I can report that he was kind of right. But not for the reason he stated (if I tried to redline it that long I’d be picking chunks of valve cover and piston crown out of my pant cuffs for weeks). True, the bike was barely rideable—I couldn’t ride it more than 30 minutes at a time. But not for the reasons he gave.
This is the part of the project you don’t read about in the magazines—the part after the bike is rolled out of the workshop and the guy in the dirty jeans and open-faced helmet (so you can see his lush, curly beard) kicks it over and rides off into the sunset. I now know that he probably didn’t ride much after sunset, because things started falling off, the headlight stopped working and he eventually had it towed back to his garage, where it sits gathering dust in between a ’63 Impala and a snow blower. It’s called “development,” and I know why it takes 2-5 years for a big OEM to get a new model ready for production.
Seriously, I think I’ve ridden my CB 1200 miles in 24 months. It’s not for lack of trying, and my AMA account (did you know you get virtually unlimited free tows if you’re an AMA member with recurring billing? Call 1-800-AMA-JOIN or visit the website) shows it: I’ve had many tows home. Rather than spend 3000 words explaining each and every little thing that’s gone wrong, I’ll give you some highlights:
- -Muffler falling off because it was jury-rigged on to fit around the homemade rearsets.
- Electronic ignition failing three times, once on the way to the Gentleman’s Ride.
- -Battery dying not because the CB350 had a weak electrical system (as many folk will tell you), but because the 40-year-old stator (and possibly the aftermarket regulator/rectifier) was just no good.
- MD Ed-in-Chief Edge almost getting his junk roasted like Christmas-morning chestnuts when an unexplained fire consumed the right-side foam Uni pod filter. Yes, that happened.
- Front brake feeling like a rock, but not really stopping the bike.
But let’s not dwell on the negative. Instead, I’ll tell you about three things I did that, at some point, may lead to my motorcycle being a fun, dependable, everyday ride.
First, the racing clip-ons I used resulted in a back-breakingly uncomfortable riding position, especially combined with the passenger-peg-based rearsets. No good. But did you know Woodcraft CFM makes a very cool product that allows you to adjust your clipon height quickly and easily? Yes, the racing-specialty company makes a very cool “Riser Clip-on” in different heights from 1 to 3 inches for fork diameters from 36 to 54mm. You can get additional accessories to perfect the application—I needed spacers so the bars (Woodcraft’s light and easy-to-replace 7/8th-inch aluminum bars) would clear the front of the triple clamp. Because of Woodcraft’s split-clamp design, the installation should take just a few minutes, and the resulting position is as comfortable as my old CBR600F2. Ahhhh! Combined with some time in my buddy Al’s shop making more forward-set rearsets and back saved!
That let me ride the bike long enough for the battery to keep failing. Why was it doing that? Maybe it was the reg/rec, maybe the small battery, maybe some mysterious electrical connection, maybe the stator…screw it, I’ll replace everything! A visit to Rick’s Electric and $225 spent netted me a freshly rebuilt stator and regulator/rectifier. A bargain if I ever saw one, and money well spent unless you enjoy pushing your motorcycle or figure out how to rig it up for a battery-less magneto system. Bolting it all together was easy, even for an all-thumbs moron like me, and the components have worked flawlessly for a year or more (yeah, I know I don’t ride it much, but the battery charges, the headlight is bright and when the horn is connected it beeps).
The pointless (ha, ha) electronic ignition went into the trash, replaced with good-old fashioned points and condenser—now I’ll have to buy a timing light and re-learn how to use it. Yes, I know there are other electronic ignitions made for these motorcycles, but as of right now, nobody has them in stock or knows when more will be available.
The brakes were another cheap fix. I rolled up to Hayasa Motorbikes, a local repair shop in Oakland, California to show off my ride to Tyler, master mechanic and main man. He rolled his eyes—he’s been bombarded by local hipsters and their bodged-together “cafe racer” projects—before he said, “well, at least you didn’t do pipe wrap.” His contempt turned into mild respect when he noted some of the choices I’d made, but he took one look at the master cylinder and said something like, “if you want that brake to work, get a smaller-bore master cylinder for it.”
Aha! Luckily, my business partners and I had a wrecked Rebel 250 with an 11mm-bore master cylinder, so I tried it out. Success! The front brake now works like a brake. The large bore was the stock setup for these early ’70s Hondas—they probably didn’t work well then, either. To find such an effective and affordable solution is a refreshing change from how things usually go with vintage motorcycles.
Another big change I made is a work in progress, but I think I’m close to getting it licked. It’s the carburetors—and you’ll have to wait for another installment to read about them.
Gabe Ets-Hokin is the Editor of City Bike Magazine, and a frequent freelance contributor to MotorcycleDaily.com.